If you want to be a professional interpreter, whatever the language combination, there are some things you need to consider:
1. Dress code. Dress smartly and in keeping with the place and occasion. Ask the client (if you’re going to a conference / party), do your research about what to wear and not to wear in certain places (court, prison, hospital etc.). For most locations and events, jeans, trainers or flip-flops are not an option. Slacks are preferred to skirts in a prison, wearing too much jewellery is a no-no most of the times.
2. Punctuality. Arrive on time. I cannot emphasize this enough. Actually, arrive at least 15 minutes earlier. It’s not only unpredictable traffic that can delay you, but if your sense of direction is as good as mine, you have a big chance of getting lost within a 500 m radius from the location :oops:. Moreover, arriving early gives you the chance to find a little bit more about the event, familiarise yourself with the proceedings, case and the people involved.
3. Confidentiality. It is a vital aspect of an interpreter’s (and also a translator’s) profession. Never disclose or discuss with anyone the details of a particular job. Not only that you may lose clients, but you may even face legal consequences.
4. Professionalism. Don’t undertake assignments you are not sufficiently qualified/experienced for. Your job is very important. Mistakes and misunderstandings may cost your client dearly. And it’s not only money, but imagine an underqualified or inexperienced interpreter is asked to attend a legal or medical meeting – it can affect someone’s life negatively. We all need to start somewhere, which brings me to the next two tips.
5. Check. Ask for clarification if you are not sure, haven’t heard or you do not understand something being said. Don’t think you’ll look unprofessional. On the contrary. Making sure your interpretation is flawless can only be to your clients’ interest and they will definitely appreciate that.
6. Research. Find out as much as possible about the assignment. If possible, ask your client to provide you with any materials (presentations, speeches, a briefing of the case, glossary, technical terms) beforehand, so that you have time to research any terms you may not be familiar with.
7. Language. Always use the first person when interpreting. Start with “I”, never with “(S)he says…).
8. Completeness. Do not summarise what is being said unless you are asked to do so. Otherwise, you need to interpret everything, without omitting or altering any part.
9. Objectivity. Do not give your opinion. You are there to interpret, not to give advice. Regardless of what you may think of the situation, regardless of whether you disagree, you need to be impartial at all times and to not get involved in any way.
10. Invoice. Last but not least, bring a printed invoice with you (unless otherwise agreed with the client). A handwritten one does not look professional.
I hope these pieces of advice have been helpful. Please feel free to add your own and share from your experience.
I totally agree with you. I highly appreciate your efforts to help raise awareness about the profession. At point 4, you said something very important,that is, money should not be the focal point but the job. As an interpreter, you act as a mouthpiece in conveying the real meanings of words and concepts. You should focus on your reputation rather than on material interests.
Ndongu Pascal from the DRC.
Thank you for your comment, Ndongu. Even more important is to focus on the client’s reputation, which is in the interpreter’s hand (or mouth, to be more precise). Misinterpreting can have serious consequences – this recent situation springs to mind: https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1419921/tokyo-chides-translator-over-pm-abes-second-world-war-remarks
Hi ! I am studying in the translation career in Mexico and I am wondering if you have some tips for a beginner in interpreting speeches. Which exercises are the best ? And by any chance is there a book with translated terminologies ?
Hi Janelle, many thanks for stopping by.
What kind of interpreting are you thinking of: court, simultaneous, consecutive…? They all require different skills. I would certainly recommend this post https://translationtimes.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/our-number-one-rule-for-interpreting.html from Judy and Dagmar Jenner (both very well known interpreters). Their blog is definitely one to follow. Judy also uploads speeches on https://www.speechpool.net/en/ for those who want to practice.
There are numerous books on translation, I’m not sure what exactly you are after, but if you give me more details, I might be able to help.
Thank you so much for your reply ! Well, right now im starting my 5th semester. I´m having for the first time “Interpretation” class. Our teacher told us that we´re are going to do consecutive interpretation. We already did our first exercise and got some homework. He recommended us to do shadowing to the kpbs news reporters. What I found difficult was taking the notes; I worry that I will miss out something or not express it correctly. I’d like to improve my consecutive interpretation, and simultaneous as well. Perhaps furthermore we will have a surprise simultaneous interpretation exam.
Oh and about the terminologies. We are learning them for our translations. So far it has been about accounting, financial and legal terms. I will be happy to know if such book, with terminologies, exists.
I did not imagined that I would recieve a response by a professional translator & interpreter. This is really amazing. Thank you so much for your time. I hope to be great translator/interpreter some day.
My pleasure, Janelle.
For consecutive interpreting, you may want to have a look at https://lourdesderioja.com/2013/05/18/my-consecutive-kit/
Regarding terminology, I can’t think of a book off the top of my head now, but I do have some resources you can check out. We have put together a collection of over 3,000 glossaries, split into categories (including the ones you need) – 3000+ translation glossaries.
You can also check out the European Commission’s resource page https://ec.europa.eu/translation/index_en.htm, as well as the glossaries from the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament – https://termcoord.eu/glossarylinks/.
What is your language combination?
The languages we use are Spanish to English and vice versa. I’m studying French as well, but that is apart from my translation-interpretation classes.
The links are truly helpful. I am grateful for your help !
Thanks Alina. Very helpful advice for interpreters like me.
I do have a question though: regarding your point #7, sometimes if I don’t use he/she said, my client would ask me: did you say this or did he (the speaker)? What should I do then.
I’m doing more business and trading interpretations. Ie, between a customer from somewhere outside of China and a China factory owner or company owner.
Thanks for stopping by, Leon. A very easy solution is to make it clear from the start (to all parties) that they need to address each other directly and you’ll be interpreting in first person. What you described usually happens when people have not worked with interpreters before. When I was doing liaison interpreting (legal), I never had that problem, as solicitors and barristers are used to using interpreters.
Thanks Alina. You are right. My previous customers are mainly foreign private company owners who may come to China for the first time. I guess that could explain it a little. Thanks for the reminder. I will keep it in mind and in case similar cases happen, I know what to do.
I’m glad I could help. You could also send them a short guide explaining how things work with interpreting. We have one on our website for example: https://inboxtranslation.com/resources/working-interpreters-guide/ and we let the clients know about it before the event so they know what to expect. Of course, you can tailor it according to the event and client.
Thank you Alina. Very helpful!
You are the best Alina…really your effort was very helpful to me. And that made a very huge difference in my work . keep up the good work
Thank you Alina, Amazing post. I am Gayathri from India.
Do you have any specific advice for Japanese English pair interpretation.
Would love to hear from you ?
Thank you for these professional points of view.
I am a 60 years old, Tanzanian leaving in Dar es Salaam. I speak and write correctly English and French.
I have been working in the tourism industry for more than 20 years handling tourists from both French and English speaking countries. I have now decided to venture into interpretation business and have started to re-visit my vocabulary.
Could you please give me some advise on how I can venture into that
” INTERPRETATION WORLD ” successfully? Thanks and best regards.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Ally. As for your question, you have to think of several aspects first:
– what sort of interpreting you are interested in doing: conference interpreting, public service interpreting….
– field(s) you want to specialise in
– if you don’t have any experience and/or studies, it may be worth looking into it
These are just a few things you’ll have to think about. There are also business aspects to consider (how much work you can expect, what the legal requirements are, how to market your services etc.).
Hi , I have been reading your posts and have found them so helpful!
I have been teaching French and Spanish at a secondary school for the past 5 years but have decided to change careers to train to be an interpreter. I am hoping to do a Masters in interpreting in September but need to pass an aptitude test first. The course is quite general including consecutive, conference and public service interpreting in French and Spanish.
How did you make the transition from teaching to translation and interpreting? How did you make sure your language skills were good enough to do interpreting? If you have any tips on how to make this transition that would be very much appreciated.
Thanks so much.
Hi Rachel, thanks for stopping by and for the kind words and good luck with the test for your Master’s!
In my case, the transition was smooth, as I kept doing translations and interpreting part-time while working as a teacher. My dissertation for my Master’s focused on translation problems (namely idioms, false friends etc.) and I started interpreting (liaison/business) while still at uni, during a work experience programme. Feedback from others (good feedback I mean) is one way to know your skills are suitable. Also, never stop learning and honing your skills.
Thanks so much for responding so quickly and also for your encouragement. I appreciate it. I will start honing my skills in preparation for the test. Thanks for inspiring me.
Thank you for reading the blog! And again, good luck!